Pre-Med Requirements: Courses to Get Into Medical School

May 2, 2024
5 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/2/24

When it comes to pursuing a career in medicine, understanding the pre-med requirements is your crucial first step.

Are you considering a career in medicine? The path to becoming a doctor begins with pre-med, a crucial phase that prepares students for the challenges of medical school. It’s important to know what you’re getting into and how to set yourself up for success to make the most of pre-med.

Get ready for an in-depth journey through requirements, course prerequisites, typical majors, and other essential aspects. Whether you're starting your pre-med path or aiming to boost your understanding, join us on this exploration to pave the way for your successful medical career. Let's dive right in.

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What Is Pre-Med and How Does It Work?

Pre-med, often known as pre-medicine, is the road many students take to prepare for medical school after finishing their undergraduate studies. It's not a specific major but rather a series of steps and coursework that lay the foundation for a future medical career. There are a ton of great pre-med schools throughout the US. 

During your undergrad years, you'll dive into a range of challenging STEM courses to build a strong scientific background. To secure a spot in medical school, you’ll also need to take the MCAT,  a standardized exam that measures your scientific knowledge, critical thinking abilities, and problem-solving skills. 

Most universities have pre-health advisors who can help you plan your coursework and extracurricular activities and ensure you stay on the right path as you interact with healthcare professionals and discover different paths within the healthcare field. 

What are the General Pre-Med Course Requirements?

Each medical school may have slightly varying course requirements, but they generally include these courses: 

  • Biology - 1 year with lab
  • General Chemistry - 1 year with lab
  • Organic Chemistry - 1 year with lab
  • Physics - 1 year with lab
  • Biochemistry - 1 semester 
  • Math - 1 year 
  • English or writing - 1 year 

Course prerequisites for pre-med are pretty standard across the board. You'll have to complete a year's worth of challenging courses in biology, general (inorganic) chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and their associated lab work. You may also be asked to take calculus, statistics, psychology, or writing. 

However, before you apply to any particular school, you should be familiar with their specific requirements, as they may differ from the general prerequisites. For example, here are the pre-med requirements for Harvard Medical School

  • Biology - 1 year with lab experience
  • Chemistry - 2 years with lab experience; biochemistry included 
  • Physics - 1 year, lab experience preferred
  • Math - 1 year, with 1 semester of calculus and 1 semester of statistics
  • Writing - 1 year 
  • Behavioral sciences - encouraged 

Recommended Courses for Pre-Med

Although you’re not required to take the following courses, familiarity with the subject matter is valuable for a future career in medicine. You’ll be more prepared for the concepts you might face on the MCAT or as a doctor. Plus, these courses look good on med school applications!

Typically, recommended pre-med courses include the following: 

  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Humanities
  • Genetics
  • Ethics
  • Computer Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Calculus
  • Public Health

Typical Majors for Pre-Med Students

You might assume that everyone on the pre-med track has majors in biology, biochemistry, or chemistry, and while many do, there's no one-size-fits-all answer here.

Acceptance Rates by Major

Data indicates that humanities students have a slightly higher chance of getting into medical school compared to others. However, it's not just because of their major. 

Humanities students often bring strong GPAs and MCAT scores to the table, and these play a significant role in the acceptance process. Here are the acceptance rates by major for applicants to medical school:

  • Biological Sciences: 40.8%
  • Humanities: 50.5%
  • Math and Statistics: 45.1%
  • Other: 38.9%
  • Physical Sciences: 46.4%
  • Social Sciences: 40.2%
  • Specialized Health Sciences: 38.3%

While humanities majors have a slightly higher acceptance rate, it's essential to remember that other aspects of your application also play a crucial role in the admissions process.

Graduation Rates

When we look at who successfully completes medical school, we find that many of them hold degrees in biology, health-related fields, bioengineering, or psychology. These majors often cover a substantial portion of the requirements for pre-med, which makes sense.

GPA and MCAT Scores

Students with backgrounds in math and statistics tend to achieve the highest MCAT scores and have the best GPAs. However, there's a catch—not many math and stats majors apply to medical school, so those who do are usually top performers.

Most Popular Pre-Med Majors

Biology takes the top spot here, with 57% of all medical school applicants and newly enrolled students majoring in biological sciences. This is partly because the required coursework aligns closely with med school prerequisites. 

But remember, medical schools value diversity, so choosing a less common major might make you stand out. Just ensure you excel in your GPA and MCAT scores.

So, when it comes to selecting your major, don't fret too much about what everyone else is choosing. Opt for what genuinely interests you and aligns with your strengths. Ultimately, your dedication and passion will be the driving forces behind your success on the journey to becoming a doctor.

Other Requirements for Pre-Med

Now, let's look at some additional requirements you should keep in mind on your path to becoming a successful pre-med student.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities are not required for pre-medical students, but they are strongly advised. When you apply to medical school, your grades and test scores are important, but so are other qualities like leadership, empathy, communication skills, and a dedication to helping others. 

Here's why extracurriculars can help you build them:

  • Research Experience: It shows you're curious and eager to learn, which is vital for medical school. It's especially beneficial if you're interested in MD-PhD programs that combine medicine and research.
  • Community Service: Medical schools value candidates who are altruistic and dedicated to helping others. Participating in community service demonstrates your commitment to making a positive impact.
  • Teaching: Working as a teaching assistant or tutor allows you to develop essential skills like communication, empathy, and leadership. These skills are crucial for doctors when dealing with patients.
  • Hobbies: Your personal interests and hobbies can reveal more about you. They might even demonstrate important qualities like teamwork, communication, and compassion, which are valuable in the medical field.

Just remember to choose activities that genuinely interest you and help you grow personally and professionally. Include them on your resume so the admissions committee knows what you’ve accomplished and what you’re into. 

Letters of Recommendation

You typically need a minimum of three letters of recommendation. These usually include two letters from science professors and one from either a non-science professor or someone who has supervised you in an extracurricular activity. 

These letters are an essential part of your medical school application because they provide insights into your academic abilities, character, and suitability for a career in medicine. 

While some schools may have specific requirements or preferences regarding the number or type of letters, having at least these three letters is a common standard.

It's important to choose recommenders who know you well and can speak to your qualifications and potential as a future physician. Also, be prepared to have to draft a letter for them to fill in the blanks. 

MCAT Score

When it comes to MCAT scores, the typical score you need to be competitive for admission to allopathic medical schools in the United States is around 511. Scores of 509 or below are generally considered low and may not be competitive for admission to allopathic medical schools. 

The MCAT  is a crucial part of your medical school application, as it assesses your knowledge and skills in various science and critical thinking areas. Achieving a competitive MCAT score is important because it demonstrates your readiness for the rigorous medical school curriculum. 

However, it's worth noting that the specific MCAT score requirements may vary from one medical school to another, so it's essential to research and consider the requirements of the schools you're interested in applying to.

Personal Statement

A personal statement is not a universal requirement for pre-med programs, but it is a common requirement when applying to medical schools. Every medical school in the U.S. insists on including a personal statement as part of your AMCAS, TMDSAS, or AACOMAS applications. 

Pre-med programs, on the other hand, mostly focus on the academic and prerequisite coursework needed to prepare for medical school. 

For more info on pre-med course requirements and details on specific pre-med schools, give our pre-med school selection tool a try! 


Curious about pre-med requirements? Explore some common questions and answers in this FAQ section.

1. How Long Are Pre-Med Programs?

Pre-medical programs usually span four years and result in a Bachelor's degree, often in Science or Health Science. They aim to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed for medical school and success on the MCAT.

This undergraduate period is all about building a strong academic foundation and a deep understanding of the sciences, setting you on the path to becoming a successful medical professional. 

2. How Hard Are Pre-Med Courses?

Pre-med courses can be quite challenging because of their scientific nature. But the good news is that with dedication and effective study habits, you can definitely handle them. 

Just remember to stay organized, don't hesitate to seek help when you need it, and maintain a strong work ethic – these are the keys to succeeding in your pre-med studies.

3. How Many Extracurriculars Do You Need for Pre-Med?

Quality matters more than quantity in pre-med extracurriculars. Focus on a few activities you're passionate about to showcase leadership and compassion, as meaningful involvement is more impressive to admissions than spreading yourself thin.

Final Thoughts

To sum it all up, preparing for a career in medicine through the pre-med path is a journey that demands commitment and planning. By taking the right steps and understanding pre-med requirements, you can boost your chances of securing a spot in a pre-med program and, ultimately, realize your aspiration of becoming a doctor. 

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